Game Review: Myst III Exile

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I’m sorry for all the downers and grumpy people in the world, but I am relatively happy today. Not only am I walking in the graduation ceremony for my college today but I also successfully installed Myst III: Exile to my Windows 8 machine and finished it in less than 4 hours! That, by the way, is a personal best, because I am typically a conservative gamer.

Myst III

Myst III: Exile

Real 3-D quality!

Now technically both Myst and Riven had 3-D rendering aspects in order to create their worlds, but in all honesty, they both felt very two-dimensional in gameplay. For Exile, however, the player can now explore the world with 360 degrees turn radius and 180 degrees vertical radius (not a game designer, so I don’t know what the technology for that is actually called). Exploring the game felt slightly more real, I suppose.

Remember that Exile was made in 2001 for Windows XP, Mac OS, XBOX, and PS2. This whole 3-D business was still very cutting-edge despite not being able to move quite freely yet.

Having a three dimensional perspective on the worlds created in the Myst series is definitely an improvement from its two predecessors. In hindsight, Exile has always been a personal favorite of mine in the Myst series, which I will get to why that is later. Then again, I have yet to play Myst V: End of Ages, the last game in the series, so I might change my mind.

Amateria

Amateria, an age in Myst III: Exile.

Remembering the past…

The premise of Exile is that Atrus, 10 years after you reunited him with his wife, is giving you a chance to see his newest age, Releeshahn. Atrus has been making this new age for the remaining survivors of D’ni, that mystical civilization that one day went down in ruins, according to Myst lore. Releeshahn is supposed to be a new hope for the D’ni people so that they can rewrite their future and stabilize their civilization again, not necessarily to its former glory but so that they can thrive in peace once more.

At least, that’s how the story goes anyway.

The moment Atrus meets with you, however, a mysterious figure burglarizes Atrus’ house and steals the Releeshahn linking book! Not only that, but he sets the house on fire also! You, being Atrus’ most trusted comrade after 10 years must enter the linking book that this burglar uses to get Releeshahn back. Well, that’s what you decide anyway, because you really don’t have any time to think.

The world you enter is J’nanin, an island similar to that of Myst, as it is a hub for four other ages. J’nanin is one of Atrus’ first ages that he had ever written in the Art, and the four additional ages were like trials he had written to create the “ideal” age. As you follow the burglar, he escapes into one of these ages with Releeshahn in his hands.

As you later discover, J’nanin was used as a training ground for Sirrus and Achenar, Atrus’ sons, in learning about the Art also. Of course, as you know from the lore, these sons betray Atrus and destroy many of the precious ages that he had written, and this burglar just happened to be caught in the middle!

Needless to say, this crazy castaway has now escaped into an age you can’t get to right away, so you have to explore the remaining three ages: Voltaic, Edanna, and Amateria to get to him.

Saavedro

Saavedro, the exile.

Atrus is a deceiving bastard!

Well, at least that’s what I’m calling him. I mean, I know that as the player, you’re like his best friend or something. The exile however, whom you learn to know of as Saavedro (the coolest name ever, by the way) believes that Atrus is a jerk that left him to die by the hands of his sons as they destroyed his home! Atrus, your friend, a jerk? No way are you going to take that crap from this guy, who you barely met!

At least, that’s how you’re supposed to feel about him.

To be honest, Atrus being an asshole is probably the most accurate description of the main protagonist in the Myst series. I mean, he imprisoned his two sons that destroyed his ages, destroyed the books that imprisoned his two sons once he was released from his own prison, not to mention he imprisoned his own father who was a tyrant on Riven. Sure, he does all this out of vengeance, but come on, Atrus is kind of an unforgiving bastard.

And yet, Atrus does all of this crazy puzzle things in his ages to ultimately teach people a lesson. As much as you, the player, appreciate that he’s doing this for your own good, Saavedro does not see it that way.

And believe me, once you get to meet Saavedro face-to-face, Atrus to him is the worst scum in the universe. He believes that you are Atrus this whole time, but when you get to Narayan he is utterly disappointed that it’s you and not him. Guess this is your way of deceiving this poor guy.

Freeing Saavedro

Once you’re stuck on Narayan, the last age in Exile, there’s really nowhere else to explore other than the shielded chamber that you link to. And of course, you’re stuck with a madman that’s hell bent on getting his revenge on that deceiving bastard Atrus. Having said that, he gives you a fair warning: “if there is one thing I know about linking books, the doors they open don’t close behind you.” That should give you a hint of your level of trust with this guy.

To get the real ending to Exile, you actually have to end up deceiving Saavedro yourself! It turns out that Narayan, Saavedro’s homeland is actually still thriving and untouched by the sinister hands of Sirrus and Achenar. However, one last puzzle stands in the exile’s way: the way out of the shield is a two-person operation, and he still has his bargaining chip. He trusts that you will set him free and in turn would give back Releeshahn.

Now let’s be honest: do you really want to trust this guy? In a final moment of desperation, you have to play the asshole this time. Saavedro trusts that you trust him because as it stands, he’s still at an advantage. You have to prove to him that you can’t trust him and thus force him into a corner to give you Releeshahn. Once you do that, of course, you can set him free.

Releeshahn

The Releeshahn linking book.

Building a brighter future…

To this day, the ending to Myst III: Exile (the real ending) really gets my tears welled up. After 20 years of exile and ultimately having his heart broken by a complete stranger, Saavedro can finally go home and see his wife and two daughters. Sure, the ending is relatively abrupt once you make it back to Atrus’ age of Tomanha, but unlike its two predecessors, Exile actually has a somewhat fulfilling ending.

There is no certainty that Saavedro does in fact find his family again after so long. On the other hand, that doesn’t matter so much to the game as you can return to Atrus with Releeshahn in hand and Saavedro thanks you with a seldom smile on his face.

Atrus closes with a final word that proves once again that maybe he’s not a deceiving bastard after all. He knows that like the D’ni people, he’s had a very shady past and in hindsight would wish that it could be rewritten. On the other hand, it is the lessons from his mistakes that he learns to improve himself. This is why remembering his past, both good and bad, is crucial to life: so that he could build a brighter future.

Catherine and Atrus.

Catherine and Atrus.

Just when you thought it was all over, Atrus once again reveals yet another secret to his past. Stay tuned for my review on Myst IV: Revelation.

Game Review: Riven

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Truth be told, I never actually got a chance to revisit Riven: the Sequel to Myst, as I had promised myself. I’m quite spoiled by animations and since the game ran on a really old version of Quicktime I gave up trying to play without them. Animations were crucial to experiencing the Myst series, from the heart-racing travel scenes to the pivotal discussions you have with the main characters of each game. The following is simply an account of how I remember playing Riven when I had my old (and I mean Windows 95 old) computer.

Riven

Before I move on, I should warn my readers that this is a review for the game Riven: the sequel to Myst, and not for Riven, the League of Legends character.

Your Dad is a what now?

Riven begins with a cinematic (that of course I couldn’t see) where the main protagonist Atrus talks to you from D’ni, as was established in Myst. He tells you that you must embark on a new journey to a much older age than Myst, to a mystical land called Riven. You are not to be sent for vacation, as the channel island resort seems to suggest, but rather you must find and capture Gehn, Atrus’ father.

Now why do you have to do Atrus’ dirty work and capture his father in a prison linking book? Because Gehn apparently imprisoned Catherine, Atrus’ wife. Rather than getting the ancient D’ni version of a subpoena from him, Atrus does what any other “loving” son would and politely ask a stranger to capture him. Of course, after the previous game’s fiasco, you’re caught literally between a rock (Myst) and a hard place (D’ni) with Atrus, so you two have become best friends within the past few years; so you gladly accept this guy’s request and enter Riven from his mysterious linking book.

The Riven Islands Resort!?

The moment you enter Riven you automatically get caught and caged up by some local of the islands. He starts talking to you in his native tongue which of course, you don’t understand. Of course, he steals your prison age linking book and tries thumbing through the pages when suddenly he gets shot and falls dead on the ground! Are we still playing Riven: the sequel to Myst, the next chapter in a game priding itself on confusing puzzles over violence? Well, at least the assassin comes by to release you from your makeshift jail cell and dispose of the body which of course you can see over a cliff later.

As you explore Riven you discover that there are actually as many as five separate islands making up this age. And of course, only one island has natives on it whom don’t want to give you the time of day and leave you alone on your journey. Based on the scenery and the occasional art piece along the way you realize that this Gehn guy you’re trying to capture is like a god to the locals. All the islands are used for his facilities, the people practically worship him when they can, and if they don’t, he takes joy in executing them in a gallows that leads to waters filled with walrus-shark beasts! Either way, Gehn is one scary guy, even to locals here on Riven, and you have to find and confine him somehow.

gehn

All good things come in fives

One thing I could never figure out about this game and realized after reading the strategy guide is that Riven relies heavily on the local number system. And when I say local, I mean the D’ni system. Unlike our standard Arabic number system, D’ni does things in sets of five and twenty-five (or rather five squared).

For the newbies who have never experienced Riven, this is how it goes:

There are technically only four symbols you need to recognize within a box that notates numbers in D’ni: a vertical line, a left-hand crescent, a half of a diamond, and a smaller rectangular corner piece (at least that’s how I’m describing them). The fifth symbol is the same box for the first symbol but rotated left 90 degrees. In case you haven’t noticed, this D’ni number is the symbol all over the Riven islands, from the pentacle diagrams to the fact that the old CD version of the game came with five disks!

After the fifth symbol, you draw that same symbol and smash it together with your rudimentary symbols in order for numbers 6 through 9. On the tenth symbol you rotate the second rudimentary symbol left 90 degrees and continue. Using this method you should have 24 numbers all using a single box.

The number 25 can be written as a box with an X inside or a dot in the middle (representative of the number zero). What follows then are additional boxes you can make like digits in our Arabic number system. Instead of the next place value being of “tens” however, it is now “twenty-fives.” That means the next place value is “six hundred tenty-fives,” but thank goodness the Myst series never forces you to count that far!

Two puzzles in the game require that you know this number system to solve them. And just to make matters worse, these numbers change for each time you play the game!

The damsel in distress?

If you have completed the game thus far properly (without dying or prematurely ending the game), you do in fact meet Catherine on the most secluded island of the Riven islands. Apparently after you capture Gehn and find her, she has patiently been waiting for you to come by so that she can begin the people’s revolution! So, you’re telling me that after being imprisoned by your father-in-law who has been doing who knows what to you for years, you can calmly leave the prison and go back to doing what you do best? Well, whatever the case, Catherine goes back to the people of Riven for a moment just to start a coup in the nation (or age, I guess, as the Myst series calls them) all in time for you to solve the final puzzle to summon Atrus. Why summon Atrus? Because in this world, you don’t have a cell phone to just call him!

And how else do you summon him other than by releasing a giant drill-like machine to open up a dimensional rift on one of the Riven islands? After Atrus meets up with Catherine once more, they say their final goodbyes and let you fall into the fissure rift below.

Now before you say “that’s bogus,” if you recalled from the first Myst game (and more specifically the opening cinematic), Atrus falls into a fissure while entering the Myst linking book that you just happen to find in your world! In other words, this fissure is your ticket home! And with that, the Riven game is done and everyone lives happily ever after… I think.

atrus-meme

But wait! There are three more games in the series! Guess that means this blog series isn’t finished quite yet! Stay tuned when I get a chance to replay and review Myst III: Exile.

Game Review: Myst

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I was a weird child growing up. While my friends in the 90s were into sports and card games and hanging out together, I had a closer affinity to playing things by myself. What can I say? I was a shy kid.

Certainly didn’t help that one Christmas an uncle decided to give me a computer game to go along with the family’s computer that they had bought in the same year. That video game just happened to be Myst on CD-ROM. With stunning 3-D graphics and innovative gameplay, it had to be cool! And for a solo-playing kid like me, it would’ve been perfect!

But of course, in 1997 while I was still going through elementary school, Myst was an extremely tough game! Certainly the box on the cover didn’t have a rating (there weren’t any rating systems for video games during the time Myst was developed) and back then my parents thought most video games were for kids anyway. As long as it didn’t involve naked women or guns that blew things to bits, my parents were okay with me playing anything, because let’s face it, I wasn’t about to interact with people my age anyway. With all the bullying, the harassment, and the inability to fit in, I had to escape from the pangs of childhood. And yet, Myst was there to frustrate my childhood because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Myst

Myst island.

Myst is a single player only game.

While the Myst series is a cult classic among video games, it is only for solo players. Many games now encourage interaction with other players, almost to a point where multiplayer games saturate the market! Part of the reason Myst was a successful single player game was because it was the innovative version of text-based story adventures that many companies developed in the 70s and 80s. This time, however, the world that players go into was very visual and for Myst, you had to use the mouse. Prior to 1993, which was when Myst first came out, the mouse was still a new piece of technology for PC users; and not a lot of families had computers for home use anyway!

So if you’re looking for a multiplayer game to hang out with your friends and interact with them through a TV monitor or something, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want to escape by yourself into an interactive world, jump into Myst!

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The library on the Myst island.

Myst is an adventure story.

Contrary to popular belief, I did not like to read when I was growing up. It wasn’t that I was unable to read or had trouble with it; in fact my reading level was so high that teachers encouraged me to read full-on novels when everyone else still had pictures in their reading material! Needless to say I was disappointed, so I got sick of reading.

My first time playing through Myst as a kid, I didn’t bother to read; and to be honest, maybe I should have. I mean, come on, the game is about how people travel to other worlds by touching the pages of a book! If you’re not going to read in this game, I don’t know what else to tell you!

There is a library in this game where you have to sort through literally burned books and read stuff about the remaining Myst ages. Ages, by the way, are defined as the realms of which are to be visited in the game through books thanks to The Art, which is the ability to write books that link to these ages (which has a back story in and of itself, and is explained better in the Myst canon texts). Each book that can be found are journals that tell about these amazing ages that you can visit in the game; but they also have clues and insights that allow you to find ways to get to these ages!  So if you’re balls enough to play this game without a strategy guide, reading those texts along with any other texts you find in the game is crucial.

Not only must you read, but you must also infer what you are reading between the lines, per se. There are clues within not only the texts on how to solve puzzles in your progress, but inferences that have to be made in order to find the most optimum ending.

Atrus

Atrus, the main character of Myst. You must rescue him.

You control your destiny.

Despite the fact I didn’t like to read, there was one kind of book I liked and that was those choose your own adventure books. These books forced readers to jump around instead of going from left-to-right in the book, and depending on what you chose, it could be a short or long adventure. Of course, naturally, you wanted to choose the best ending; and that usually meant that you would make it out of the story alive somehow.

And by the way, yes, you can actually die in Myst.

Unlike a lot of video games that were made at the same time as Myst, this game had multiple endings. Video games are typically linear. You play the game, you beat up on your enemies, you win, everyone is happy. But if you screwed up in Myst, you were not going to be satisfied with your ending! There are four endings in Myst (which I will not reveal all of them to you) and only one of them is actually a good one.

One of the most frustrating things playing this game as a kid was that there were no direct instructions in this game. Usually when you play a game you have an objective or a goal that you’re supposed to reach. Well in this game, it’s like life: you enter into this world and have no idea what the hell you’re supposed to do once you get there! What you do find however is a secret message lying on the ground from some guy named Atrus and two colored books in the library with people trapped in them! Now this is where you have to infer things from what is said and read in the game.

If you want the “good” ending in this game you have to learn to trust only one character among the three that you meet. All three of them are in different colored books: Achenar in blue, Sirrus in red, and much later in the game, Atrus in the green book. Sirrus and Achenar will tell you to bring them missing pages from their respective books so that they can be released from their book prisons; and then of course point the finger of blame toward each other. They also both tell you that a certain green book should not be touched because it is also a prison. Atrus tries to clear things up by explaining to you that both of these guys in the other books are totally lying to you!

So who’s telling the truth? That’s up to you to decide.

Channelwood age in Myst.

Channelwood age in Myst.

Myst is an old game.

If you want to play this game for yourself, bear in mind that it is old. Not that old is bad, but it requires an old operating system that you, a home user, probably no longer have. There are ways around playing this game with a newer computer, but it can be somewhat tricky to get everything to work properly. I remember having bugs in my original Myst game, and that was on a Windows 95 machine!

The most common bugs I came across playing the product I have now include the following:

  • Crashes during certain scenes.
  • Some video or motion content does not work.
  • Does not play on Windows XP or higher (compatibility with Windows 98/ME suggested).
  • Cannot load saved progress.

Of course, I’m playing my game on Windows 8, so I’m sure I have more problems than I would ever hope for. If you want to play this game on your computer, I suggest changing your compatibility options or use a virtual machine with Windows 98 (or equivalent OS from that time period) to play the game. Otherwise, Myst does have a version on the Nintendo 3DS which is probably not as buggy.

The ending has not yet been written.

If you do somehow make it to the “good” ending, you discover that Atrus’ wife Catherine has also been imprisoned. Of course as a player, you have no idea why or how or even what for; but needless to say, it opened Myst up for a very obvious sequel. And like I said in one of my posts, Myst is a series of five games along with their spinoff game Uru.

The game of Myst, for me anyway, was bittersweet. It wasn’t the greatest thing to play and certainly not what I had expected. However I like bittersweet things, more often than not, and I was satisfied enough to want to continue on with the series.

And with that, Myst released their sequel around 1998 or so with Riven. Stay tuned for that review later!

Film Review: Go Public

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Last night I went to a preview for an independent documentary film called Go Public: a Day in a Life of an American School District. I would’ve posted yesterday, but it was already pretty late and I was tired. Go figure…

The film is, as the title suggests, a non-narrative look at a day in the life of persons involved in public school life. The film was made with 50 crews, 50 subjects, all within 1 day (project planning and editing, of course, not included). Of the 50 film crews, 10 of them were led by actual students. The film also featured various persons including students, teachers from all grade levels, special education, counselors, principals, parents, custodians, coaches, security guards, a school board member, and the superintendent. All 28 schools in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) were featured. The Go Public Project has gone on for about 2 years now and is currently in its grass roots stage, where local communities watch and discuss the film independently before it is released or distributed.

The website at http://gopublicproject.org also features a series of 4-minute shorts about each of the subjects.

The Pasadena Context

The City of Pasadena is world-renowned for being the home of baseball hall-of-famer Jackie Robinson (who also went to a PUSD school), the annual Rose Parade, and whose surrounding communities also hold the Huntington Library and Gardens (San Marino) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (La Cañada). Pasadena is resident to a very diverse population, as is reflected by the public school system. Many of the “old rich” families had their homes in Pasadena, including the Gamble House (of Proctor & Gamble) and the Wrigley’s Mansion (of Wrigley’s gum, which is now the Tournament of Roses HQ).

The City of Pasadena (and more specifically PUSD) is found in many high school political science textbooks thanks to the public busing system, where kids from all over the city were placed on buses to schools across town in order to remove the city’s de facto segregation in the 1960s.

And yet in this city full of history and tradition, there is a huge problem: how the public eye views the PUSD system. Roughly 30-40% of all the children under 18 years of age in Pasadena go to private schools, perhaps the largest percentage for a city of its size to have in the entire nation. A lot of things have probably caused that, which I will get to later, but certainly that statistic has never been helpful to PUSD, its workers, but most of all, to its students.

Go Public attempts to show the public eye what really goes on in a PUSD school, both good and bad; and in my opinion, shows it fairly accurately. Having been through the PUSD system for 12 years, I had mixed feelings about the film’s portrayal. On the one hand, I was glad that the real events that happened were shown, as I had remembered going through the school system so many years ago. On the other hand, it broke my heart knowing that of the 50 subjects in the film, even they were not immune to the budget cut problems and some were in fact laid off after the filming had been completed.

As an aspiring teacher specifically for a public school I know that such a fear is reasonable and many have tried to tell me to stay away from the idea, especially in Southern California, but I see this as an opportunity to change things for the better. If you couldn’t tell from the portrayal of my writings including Prof. Ginkgo in my fan fiction, I will not go quietly and stand idly by as things around me start to go awry. I am a person who sees a problem and finds every way I can to solve it.

White Flight

Coupling the Pasadena context, and more specifically the PUSD bus initiative from the sixties, is perhaps one of the most unspoken issues in the problem at hand (by the way, the Go Public film does not mention it at all). Ever since the decision to desegregate Pasadena schools then, many white families opted out and sent their kids to private schools immediately. In the years following the busing initiative, more private schools sprouted up than ever before in Pasadena; and consequently, many of the white (and at least back then, the highest performing) students moved in to them. Now I know that private schools do in fact allow some people of color into their doors, so long as they behave well, get high marks, and of course, pay for the tuition; but for the most part, the rise of private schools has become the choice alternative in Pasadena to public schools.

It is true that PUSD cannot turn away students from any of their schools. Everyone from the most well-behaved children to the delinquents groomed into someday becoming criminals are placed under the same roof. I get that. The stigma behind this, however, is that all students in public schools will not have a chance, and the fear of having children who have no affluent future drives many families away from the public school system altogether. And yet for most families with these fears, it comes to no surprise that none of them have ever been in a public school. Ever.

My two siblings and I were placed in the PUSD system for 12 years apiece. Due to unusual circumstances, we went to the same elementary and middle schools but decided to go to three different high schools; but all the schools were public nonetheless, and yes, all were in Pasadena. Now certainly my family could have afforded private school if they wanted to, and for a brief time in middle school, I even wanted to get sent to one; knowing of course that my mental health history probably would never let me in one of them. My parents, however, decided to keep me in a public school and even more specifically in the regular track (as opposed to special education, which believe it or not, was an option for someone like me). I probably have never told them, but I’m glad they made that decision (the public school decision, of course). I probably would’ve never been the person I am today without that decision.

Children Will be Children…

No matter where they go. One of the panelists for the film last night told us an anecdote about sending his daughter from the Montessori school to a PUSD school long ago. Many of the other parents were talking about sending their kids to certain places, but finding out he would send his daughter to a public school seemed out of the question! “Your kids gonna get eaten alive!” he said as he retold the story. It’s as if no one in a public school will ever survive coming out.

“Bitch, please,” a common même says; the public school system isn’t as bad as folks make it out to be; and to be honest, the children act the same way no matter where they go. There’s a charter school down the street from where I live, and their kids (as higher-performing as they are) always invade the local McDonald’s whenever I’m there, it seems. I thought public school kids were bad when I was in middle school; these kids are just as rowdy.

It’s also a common misconception that public schools are a hotbed for drug activity. While that is true, private school students are also known to use drugs as well; only more expensive and sometimes even more lethal ones than that of public school students.

One of the teachers in the film said that kids are not necessarily bad or good; but are raised a certain way with their families. If anything, the school is like a family to many students; and like a family, one must learn to deal with the way others are. Public school is a perfect means to truly learn how to be with very different people (and I mean VERY different). Of course, I’m the kind of person that thrives off of being different, no matter where I go. If I had to be in a school where everyone was just like me, you bet your ass I’d do something outlandish to show that I’m different; and you bet your ass if I was in private school that I’d probably get kicked out!

Intrinsic Value

At the end of the day, there are a lot of people that are involved in making the school system work. From the teachers to students, from families to community, from maintenance crews to custodians, from principals to board members; one thing is quite common for those who are in the industry. All of them truly care about the well-being of their students, no matter who they are. One teacher in the documentary said that if given the choice of a million dollars and being happy every day, he would choose being happy. And doing things for his students makes him happy.

This is the true value that life has to offer. One of my goals in life is to inspire others to think more critically and be the starter of changes in this world. While my current background is not apparent to others, I deeply care about children and truly believe they are the ones who will carry on traditions and hopefully not struggles when my time has passed. If I had to choose to be a person who makes things happen or stand idly by, I’d rather do the former; because let’s face it, I can’t sit still to save my life!

Such are the reasons I plan to become a teacher. And yes, for a public school

Find more details about the Go Public movie at http://gopublicproject.org. Also, check out what’s going on in Pasadena Unified School District at http://pusd.us.

Book review: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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In the grand scheme of things, life is short. I get that. And because life is short, we shouldn’t have to plan for things down the road or regret doing the stupid things we do, right? “You only live once,” a popular Internet même likes to say about this idea.

And yet in the midst of our economic struggles today, this same idea of life being too short echoes once again. Yes, this is not a new concept. In fact, life being too short meant something to another time called the “Great Depression” in the United States, but not necessarily in the same fashion as we do today.

Horace McCoy’s short novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? takes place in the mid-thirties in sunny Santa Monica, California. Right off the bat, readers understand that the main character is currently in a trial for murder (in fact, every chapter begins with the next part of his final sentence), so technically the ending is already spoiled. What readers don’t understand right away is why the main character (who we find out much later is a man named Robert Syverten) kills the heroine Gloria Beatty.

Robert Syverten and Gloria were not particularly friends, but somehow decided to join together as partners in a marathon dance. Marathon dances, which were quite the rage apparently in the twenties and thirties, were events held where couples move around without stopping for days on end, with only one ten-minute break every two hours. The last couple to continue dancing gets a $1000 prize, the equivalent of about half a million today. One of the veteran couples in the story participated in one such dance that lasted over 1253 hours, roughly 52 days without sleep or going anywhere else but the dance hall. Why would people subject themselves to such long spans of doing the same thing day in and day out? Well, when you’re jobless and feeling like you have to find a quick break to make tons of cash, why not? “You only live once,” right?

Interestingly enough, repetition is one of the most common themes in this story. The most obvious form of repetition is the derby, a method that this dance hall uses to eliminate couples faster. Couples compete by dancing around in a large track around the dance floor all day. The couple with the least amount of laps that day is taken out of the competition. Some people may wonder why the story carries on so quickly; I think that most of the days spent at the marathon dance were pretty much the same thing anyway, so I’m actually glad the story wasn’t any longer.

Also, Rocky the master of ceremonies gets on my nerves. I swear, every time he said “ladies and gentlemen” I wanted to jump into the story and knock his teeth out! Next time around, I should count every time Rocky says those words, because that was ridiculously annoying!

In the end, we come to realize that even in the idea of folks believing life is too short and partying it up shouting “YOLO,” there is some sort of repetition that people face in life (as boring as that sounds). And despite young folks who believe that they must do the wild and crazy things now because life is short, for the young adults in this novel (and that time period) come to prove that life is just not short enough. The only way to break the cycle around the proverbial derby as set in the dance marathon is through death.

So next time I see one of those “you only live once” campaigns, I will remember that the repetition of such a case is already too much. If life is short for some people, it’s obviously not short enough, and I will be shouting a different YOLO: “You obviously lack originality!”

Oh, and if you’re still wondering why Robert Syverten killed Gloria Beatty, well, they shoot horses, don’t they?